Friday December 8, 2023
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Friday March 22, 2024
Nothing’s bigger than life. All vastnesses—expanding space, infinite time—crouch inside of consciousness. On a historical scale, to say nothing of a cosmic one, the individual human life vanishes, and yet it’s the only aperture any of us get into reality. It’s barely there, and it’s all there is.
That’s the paradox Bell Witch drives at. For more than a decade, the Pacific Northwestern doom metal band has sent tides surging over the seawalls of the song form, unraveling conventional expectations about the ways music stations itself in time to absorb a listener’s attention. Rather than seek catharsis, the duo’s songs heave themselves through time at a glacial pace, staving off resolution in favor of a trancelike capsule eternity. Invoking both boundlessness and claustrophobia in the same charged gesture, Bell Witch cultivates a sense of time outside of time, an oasis inside an increasingly frenetic media culture.
For their new album, The Clandestine Gate, bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer Jesse Shreibman exploded Bell Witch’s bounds. Like 2017’s lauded Mirror Reaper, The Clandestine Gate is a single 83-minute track—a composition that pulses and breathes on a filmic timeframe. It constitutes the first chapter in a planned triptych of longform albums, collectively called Future’s Shadow. “Eventually, the end of the last album will be looped around to the first to make a circle,” says Desmond. “It can be continuously looped, like a day cycle. This would be dawn. The next one would be noon. The following one would be sundown, with dawn and sundown both having something of night.”
Bell Witch began tracing the sequences that would form Future’s Shadow in live performance while on tour with Neurosis and Mono. At first, Shreibman and Desmond planned to release each chapter in the sequence as they completed it, touring each album in between. Then, in early 2020, pandemic restrictions forced them to step back from that timeline. Locked out of their rehearsal space, they worked on what would become The Clandestine Gate at a slower burn than any of their previous projects. The album germinated over the course of more than two years, a pace that allowed their music to evolve organically to a state of more focused, grounded minimalism.
Legends. Formed in 1978 in Los Angeles, they shaped not only the sound Punk Rock, but defined the attitude and style which countless others mimic to this day, FEAR was the first punk rock band to grace national television in North America via Saturday Night Live on Halloween 1981, courtesy of John Belushi, leaving the studio set in shambles. FEAR remain on the permanently banned list from Saturday Night Live to this very day, and are ranked the number one musical performance in the show’s robust history by Rolling Stone Magazine. Their first album has sold over 500,000 copies and is considered to be one of he top ten punk rock albums of ALL TIME. FEAR’s frontman Lee Ving is also an accomplished actor with appearances in several large budget Hollywood film’s such as “Flashdance”, “Clue”, “Streets Of Fire”, and over 30 other films and television programs. Former members of FEAR have gone on to play with “Red Hot Chili Peppers”, “Frank Zappa”, “The Breeders”, and Frank Black &amp; The Catholics”.
Lee Ving is a prominent member of Dave Grohl’s “ Sound City Players” and appeared in the 2013 film and soundtrack. 2018 was FEAR’s 40th anniversary, and original drummer Spit Stix and original guitar player Philo Cramer have returned to the group. Also joining the group are former AFI and Tiger Army bassist Geiff Kresge, and Eric Razo of The Henchmen. FEAR have recently reclaimed the rights to their first album and their entire musical catalog is currently being reissued on Vinyl and digital formats. 2022 will be the 40th anniversary of FEAR’s first album “The Record”, and an anniversary re-release box set is currently in the works.
Walking through the residential heart of Portland’s Mississippi district you’ll find a charming wooden house under the overcast Oregon sky. This local landmark is the home of soul legend Ural Thomas, built by hand with found materials decades ago. The basement is overflowing with musical equipment. When you walk down into the room you may see Portland’s Soul Brother Number One at the table chuckling, telling stories and jokes, and espousing his personal humanist philosophy obtained from 82 years of unfathomable experiences. He’s often joined by either his generations of biological posterity or the adopted family that is his band, The Pain. You may also find this infinitely magnetic personality ripping through a cover song at full volume or working out a new original with his loved ones.
Though Ural Thomas is widely recognized as one of the most exciting singers remaining from the original soul era, and an active musical institution for over 60years, his band, all decades younger, are treated as equals. The Pain are no backing band, but rather a well-oiled tightly-knit musical aggregation that’s spent the last eight years with Thomas developing a unique sound of its own.
Big Business is a band. They play heavy rock. On that, we can all agree. Things get tricky when you try to classify exactly where on the musical spectrum the dynamic duo’s racket falls. “I guess psychedelic heavy metal punk rock? I don’t know. People always say ‘sludge rock,’ which I always found to be lazy and kind of inaccurate," says drummer Coady Willis. "A lot of our songs are fast, and it’s not like we’re playing a half-assed Black Sabbath riff over and over again. That’s been the struggle of the band. We’re a band that doesn’t really fit into what everyone else is doing."
Willis comes from punk rockers The Murder City Devils. His co-conspirator, bassist/vocalist Jared Warren, spent time in noise rock weirdos Karp. Together, they formed Big Business in 2004. The LA-based outfit’s first three albums didn’t quite mesh with Hydra Head’s post-metal aesthetic, but their idiosyncrasies caught the attention of another iconoclastic outfit: The Melvins. They recorded three albums, an EP, and various songs between 2006 and 2016 with that iconic grunge/doom/experimental act, all while maintaining their own identity as Big Business. Along the way, they picked up guitarists Toshi Kasai and Scott Martin, but on 2016’s Command Your Weather, they returned to their core duo format. They remain in that lineup on their sixth full-length, The Beast You Are.
“It’s just better. We work faster, and we know what we’re both going for. It gives us more room to be weirder in certain aspects and try different things. It makes sense because that’s how we established ourselves in the beginning and how we learned to write songs together, it was just the two of us. Coming back to that lineup felt natural,” continues Willis. The two performed everything on the album, which was recorded between the early November and early December of 2018 at El Studio in San Francisco by Phil Becker (Pins of Light, Terry Gross). Willis, Warren, and Becker handled the mixing, with Carl Saff lending his mastering expertise to the final product. Once more, Warren has hacked up some construction paper for one of his unique cover art pieces.
With a new, dynamic demoing process leading to the creation of the most songs they’ve ever written for an album, The Beast You Are delivers 13 doses of uncategorizably heavy rock music. From the ominous death march of “The Moor You Know” to the soaring “Let Them Grind” to the delicate, ethereal “Under Everest,” Big Business continues to defy listener’s expectations. No matter the context of their music, however, one thing remains true: they are definitely still a band.
Underlying every great record, every career-defining work of art, is a certain ineffable, increasingly rarified quality: unity of vision. Great songs need not announce their greatness: their marriage of idea with action, soul with sound, appears as something which is naturally effortless, unforced—they are what they are because they have no choice but to be. On Playing Favorites, Sheer Mag’s third full length and first with Third Man Records, this precise, matured clarity of vision is put on full display. Over the course of the past decade, Sheer Mag have labored to carve out a discernibly singular position within the canon of contemporary rock: toggling with ease between the refined flourishes of a “connoisseur’s band” and the ecstatic colloquialism of populist songwriting—yet displaying no strict loyalty to either camp—their sound, while oft-referenced, is unmistakably and immediately recognizable as theirs alone. With Playing Favorites, Sheer Mag have capitalized on a decade’s worth of devotion to their own collective spirit—a spirit refined in both the sweaty trenches of punk warehouses and the larger-than-life glamour of concert halls—emerging with a dense work of gripping emotions, massive hooks, and masterfully constructed power-pop anthems. This is the record the Philadelphian rock and roll four-piece has always been destined to make.
Playing Favorites expands with a sense of undeniable vitality, buoyed by rock and roll’s singular capacity to channel a relentless compassion for human life. While at times marked by an intensified sense of melancholy, this newest offering takes stock of the confusing flow of daily life without moralizing, refusing to fall into antagonistic cynicism. Sheer Mag leans into the chaotic thrall of city living, of a life subdivided by the jagged highs and lows of bars, parties, and nightlife culture, with sweetly empathetic remove. The chemically-saturated swing of disco rhythms, crooning earnestness of heartland Americana, and boisterous theatrics of capital-G-and-M Guitar Music become strangely familiar bedfellows. This music is complex, not complicated. As lead guitarist Kyle Seely puts it, “I don’t believe people should put on a record and have to work to enjoy it.” Sheer Mag neither pander towards the studied pretensions of the rock historian elite nor dilute their approach into something more blankly palatable to a commercial audience. Instead, they have their eyes set on that ever elusive third option: those who just get it. If you build it, they will come.